Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Book Review: The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

This book was originally published nearly two decades ago, at the height of the chick lit trend, during the run of Sex and the City, and it was way ahead of its day. Despite (or perhaps because of?) having 6 Latinx women as its leads, in a time of lily-white media, it was very successful. And it's going to be rereleased in the fall of 2020, as strong books with Latinx characters are having their day.

When this book came out, I was an acquiring editor, and after just a couple of years, I was incredibly tired of the usual tropes of chick lit. I was actively asking agents to look for chick lit books where the main character didn't work in publishing, didn't live in New York, didn't hate their boss, and didn't have a gorgeous male best friend who they were "just friends" with. I remember being jealous when this book was published BY MY OWN PUBLISHING HOUSE but a different editor, as this was just what I was looking for. The characters are all in their late 20s (that also was something I wanted--I wanted the women to have more "real" problems than just dating and fashion, and that shift seems to happen around age 25 when, to put it in the parlance of Gen X, problems "stop being polite and start getting real.") They went to college together in Boston and as the only Latinx women in the journalism program, they gravitated towards each other, despite having wildly different backgrounds. Some of them grew up with a pretty non-Latin experience, one of them believes (despite a vast lack of evidence) that her family is descended from Spanish royalty, two are Cuban-American, one Puerto Rican, and one is from Columbia (the only one who is not American and for whom English is a second language.) Even within these varied experiences, there are further differences as the varying colors of their skin lead to different assumptions and stereotypes. One woman is constantly baffling people who don't believe she can be both Latina and black. Another woman, who had a fairly upper middle class American life, was seen by her husband when they met, as an "earth mother" type, even though she couldn't be further from that. Just because of her heritage.

Two of these women are married, one has kids, one has founded a successful magazine, one is a TV news anchor, one gets a record contract, one is being abused by her SO, one writes a column for the paper about being Latina in Boston, and all of them have various struggles with love (one or two have career issues but generally they're wildly successful across the board. That's my one quibble with the book--these women have the careers of 45-year-olds, not 28-year-olds.) I do wish that the end solution isn't pairing all of them (but one) off, but it was the era and the genre for that (and heck, we still see that today.) There is a sequel so perhaps the pairings don't all work out. The voices of the different women were really well drawn--you wouldn't read a Rebecca chapter and get confused and think she was Elizabeth or Usnavys. And they're incredibly different women too.

It's not too dated reading it today, but a new generation of women who didn't come of age with Bridget Jones and Andy from The Devil Wears Prada might have a different take. I'd be interested to hear how Millennials--and even Gen Z--react to this book in 2020. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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